Thursday, 1 July 2010

Gordon schools the Caledonian challenge....

As part of our continuing series of reporting on the off-season activities of our members, here is Gordon Sloan's adventure, fresh from winning the plate in the club championship.
Thanks again for your support of "Team Ramrod" during the 2010 Tennents Caledonian Challenge. If you haven't already heard, Team Ramrod came 22nd out of a total 179 teams, completing the 54 mile course in the time of 19 hours and 5 minutes!

With only 4 out of every 5 competitors completing the course, this was not a challenge for the faint-hearted!...

Our event started at 0800 on Saturday 12th June in a field in Gairlochy - roughly 8 miles North of Fort William. Waving goodbye to our support crew (Rebecca and Josie) and the luxury of our "pimped" team mini-van, we approached the start line along with around 250 like-minded souls (pic attached). Start times were staggered between 0700 and 1100 so we were confident of putting in a good time...

The first stage took us South along the canal from Loch Lochy to Fort William - a fairly straight-forward 8 miler with flat terrain to break in the trainers! We were all smiles at this stage and although a wee bit congested, strolled into Chekpoint 1 at 09.50. We quickly hunted the Support Team down for a change of socks, shoes and all important fuel for the next stage...

Leaving Fort William, we took up the West Highland Way, entering the Nevis Forest for a bit of shade. The route was still a little congested at this stage so Team Ramrod decided to up the pace and power past some of the groups. Covering 15 miles, this stage would prove to be hard work and so it was as we came out of the forest and onto an old military track for around 8 miles. The stones under foot started to niggle and we were all relieved to start our steep descent into Kinlochleven for respite. This stage took us around 5 hours. By now, it was the afternoon and we fuelled up on rolls, pasta, chocolate etc before changing plasters, compeeds, socks and footwear. Even at this stage, a number of fellow competitors were pulling out!

We didn't stop too long at Kinlochleven and soon psyched ourselves up for the task ahead - leaving our checkpoint car park to ascend the infamous Devil's Staircase from the North side - over 500 metres / almost 2,000 feet! By this time, our feet were really starting to hurt but we were all relieved to reach the summit and highest point of our adventure with amazing panoramic views. From the top, we could see our Third Checkpoint at Glencoe Ski Centre - within touching distance but still over 6 miles away!! The descent down the South side of the Devil's Staircase was tough and we were relieved to stop for water before continuing along the military track, past the Kings House Hotel and onto the Ski Centre entrance. This, for me, was one of the hardest parts of the course given we could constantly see our checkpoint but with very slow and painful progress. This stage saw us hike 10 miles - completing only 33 miles of the Caledonian Challenge in total. We finally stumbled into Glencoe at around 7pm, 11 hours after starting. We were all fairly quiet. Heads were down, added by the fact that some of us were getting professional medical support for our feet. This was a long stop - around an hour. Standing up and walking again proved difficult(!) but we managed to wave cheerio to our amazing support crew. Despite having a final checkpoint in the remote hills, this was to be the last time we'd see Rebecca & Josie until the finish line...

Starting off from Glencoe was tough. Painkillers made our plight slightly easier but we knew they'd be a short-term measure. By now, there was no congestion on the route and we were even passing those competitors who had started the event an hour earlier. This stage was fairly flat and covered 8 miles. We were ready for a stop when we approached Checkpoint 4 - staffed by the Army who laid on plenty of warm food and drink. I was feeling particularly light-headed at this point but tried to push the food and fluids. No-one wanted to give up at this stage! Time - 22.30.

We left Checkpoint 4 in a world of pain around 23.00. Our bodies were starting to deteriorate - not helped by the fact our route was now pitch black. Some of us had better torches than others and were leading the way South East climbing suddenly to a height of 400 metres. Loch Tulla below and to our left looked spectacular in the moonlight. From here, we were over 12 miles to the finish and the going was slow. Thankfully, there were plenty of water and food stops along the way during this, our final leg of the adventure. The staff en route really put on a good effort - encouraging us all whenever we got near!

With around 6 miles to go, we had a prolonged, remote uphill challenge to test our wits. The terrain was very uneven and this added to the stress on our feet. I actually felt my feet 'go' at this stage (sandals not a good look this year!) but knew we were too close to give up. From here, we stumbled upon civilisation in the form of the sleepy town of Tyndrum (at 0200) and we could almost smell the bacon rolls at the finish line! From the town, we still had 3 miles to go to Auchtertyre and our medal at the finish line. Exhausted, we slowly made it through the town and out the other side to the welcoming sound of Snowpatrol through the speakers.

We made it through the finish line roughly as one - completing the adventure at around 0300. Delighted but exhausted. Following our team photo, I for one almost passed out immediately! Others collapsed in a heap or slumped over their breakfast.

Eventually, we stumbled to the team vehicle to start our slow journey back to Edinburgh. With the sun coming up, we made it back to town around 0600 - our ordeal over!

Thanks again to our amazing support crew. In all honesty, I don't think they knew what was in-store for them! But their patience and support was fantastic and the event would have been impossible without their involvement.

Thanks also to all of our sponsors - we were taken aback by everyone's generosity, raising a massive £3,000 for the Scottish Community Foundation. We didn't want to let any of you down. This is the Foundation's flagship event, and ensures that small and local Scottish charities benefit, instead of funds perhaps being channelled to only a handful of better-known charities. Thank you again.

Safe to say we'll not do the Cally Challenge again. Might need to look for a new challenge but I'm told getting married perhaps ticks that box...

Until next time,
Gordon and the rest of Team Ramrod.